Once a year people across the country go to the movies in their underwear. Once a year mothers, fathers, teenagers, people of all ages and walks of life head to the local theater with toast, water pistols, glow sticks, rubber gloves, confetti, and toilet paper in tow. Once a year thousands of people don fishnets and heels, corsets and lab coats to see the movie that has been thrilling, chilling, and fulfilling audiences since 1975.
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is pure campy satire at its very best (or worst). The plot is perhaps one of the most bizarre ever to grace the screen, chronicling the plight of Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon), a young couple who find themselves stranded at a mysterious castle when their car breaks down on a dark and stormy night.
It is created in the template of a mad-scientist horror flick of sorts, wrapped in the guise of science fiction, dipped in musical comedy. “Rocky Horror” is the baddest of the bad, taking the worst elements of the corniest B-genres, and turning them on their head in a plot so disjointed and immature it would make Ed Wood weep. It was designed to be snubbed by serious movie critics, such as myself.
But it is by being so intentionally inane that “Rocky Horror” shows its brilliance. By using elements of movies that are rejected by mainstream society, it reaches out to audiences who are just as misunderstood. Beneath the kinky overtones, “Rocky Horror” hides a biblically inspired allegorical subplot. People feeling stranded, tempted by something forbidden and exciting, end up facing the perils of decadence, sound familiar? Contrary to the thought that “Rocky Horror” is parodying the Bible, it is merely implicating the idea that what may appear to be absurd can actually harbor a great deal of intellect. In other words, it doesn’t want you to take it, or yourself, at face value.
Perhaps it’s because of its overt seditiousness that “Rocky Horror” has become such a cultural phenomenon. Everyone remembers that feeling of excitement and revolt they had doing the “Time Warp” in a crowded theater on Halloween when their parents thought they were trick-or-treating. But, as any die-hard Frankie Fan will tell you, “Rocky” isn’t about rebellion, it’s about acceptance.
“Rocky Horror” is a satire, but not in the most obvious respect. It doesn’t mock B-movies, or the Bible, or even society itself. It makes fun of the ideal that our culture has developed in thinking that it can play almighty and denounce the individual for the sake of mainstream approval. It may take one night a year, when we dress up as characters, act goofy, and throw movie theater etiquette to the wind, to remind ourselves that if we can dream it, we can be it. And why should anyone tell us otherwise when it’s the independent thinkers who are having all the fun?